Halloween Hustle

My family right before the Trick or Treating will Happen.

One of the constant things I discuss here is that to make a living doing standup comedy, you need to have some hustle in your game. Hustle is something that a lot of comics look down upon. It has been my experience that a lot of people get into standup because they want to find a way to not work hard.  That might have worked in the 80’s comedy boom, but it has never worked while I’ve been doing standup. I thought it might be informative to give you some insight on what a 24 hour period was for me starting last Sunday night at 11pm. Some of the stuff I outline here sounds like complaining.  I’m not trying to, just the reality of my life.  I signed up to be a comedian 2 decades ago and I signed up to be a parent 9 years ago, so I just like to share what a day like mine can be like.

Sunday 11:30 pm.  Had just gotten back home from driving back from the Baltimore area.  I had booked a weekend during my oldest daughter’s Fall Break at Sully’s Comedy Cellar, so I could bring my whole family with me to see my wife’s relatives.  You never get paid vacation time with this job. Every time you want to take your family somewhere, you better book a gig or you’re losing a week of pay.  It is a long drive when you tour with an 8 year-old with special needs and twin 3 year-olds, but you push on through.

Monday 12:01 pm.  Finished getting everyone to bed after asthma breathing treatments and medicines dished out because little kids get sick a lot.  Time to pull up my DVR and watch the NFL on FOX sketch I write for.

Monday 12:05am. Sketch was okay, but none of my material was used. Very frustrating since I sent in around 40 jokes.  This has only happened a handful of times before in 9 years of doing the show.  Want to scream profanities, but can’t because I don’t want to risk waking up my kids. Need to spend a few minutes to decompress.

Monday 12:10.  Start to fall asleep on the couch.  Exhausted from getting very little sleep on trip.  Going on vacation with your family, while doing standup guarantees you will sleep very little.  After doing shows it is hard for me to shut it down, so I end falling asleep around 2 am.  My kids don’t care about that though, so I end up getting about 5 hours a night.  It’s just part of the deal.

Monday 12:30am.  Wake up realizing I need to write some topical football jokes for our FOX sketch.  I send one email of material each Sunday night to the segment producer, but with getting back late, I know I better get some stuff in before I go to bed.  I especially feel this way since none of my jokes were used the past week.  Not optimal situation, since I’m so tired, but I need to make the doughnuts.

Monday 3:00am. Banged out some good NFL jokes. Can’t stay awake any longer. Off to bed.

Monday 7:55 am.  Wife wakes me up to help finish getting my oldest daughter ready to hop on the bus. Not loving life.  My wife kicks ass in the morning and does the majority of getting everyone ready before she goes to work, but there is still about 15 minutes more of stuff to do.

Monday 8:20 am.  Walk down to bus pickup with my daughter.

Monday 8:25 am.  Spend time getting twins ready and fed.

Monday 8:45 am.  Turn on PBS Kids and go into my office so I can explore the internet for more info that might spur a football joke idea.

Monday 10:30 am. Daddy school begins. 10 minutes of reading books and then another 5 of working with a alphabet machine/toy. Hard to focus for them since it freaking Halloween and they are stoked about candy time.

Monday 10:45 am. Back to writing. Put on another show for kids.  I will admit during NFL season when my TV writing gig is going on, my kids watch 3 hours a TV per day.  Not crazy about that, but I watched at least that much when I was their age and I somehow survived it, so…

Monday 11:45 am.  Turn on radio to listen to last part of Dan Patrick Radio show while I make lunch.

Monday 12:05 pm.  Potty breaks, lots of butt wiping, since both kids are battling colds.

Monday 12:10 pm. Forgot to mention. I’m sick, too. It’s all in my throat and I have laryngitis. I croaked my way through my Saturday night show at Sullys Comedy Cellar. (Big props to my friends who own the club, Annemarie and Steve) Trying desperately to save my voice, but not easy when you have twin 3 year-olds who are constantly arguing with each other.

Monday 12:15 pm.  Twins go off to play in the basement. I use this time to send out my avails to all the booking agents I work for.  Calendar is not where I want it to be. I leave most of my december and january dates open for corporate events/xmas parties, but with the economy in the dumper, it’s not been great so far.  Pressure. Coming down on me.

Monday 1:00pm.  Time for twins to take their naps.

Monday 1:05pm.  Feed our dog.

Monday 1:10 pm.  Daddy time.

Monday 1:25 pm. Feeling extra tired after Daddy time, I decide to take nap, as well.

Monday 3:00 pm. Smartphone goes off with email. I always hope that is the sound of money.  Some booking agents sends out mass emails to fill a few openings. One of the dates would fit great with routing on an off-night. Hopefully I get it.

Monday 3:10 pm. Kids wakeup.  Go downstairs to get snack ready. This is music appreciation time, where I play stuff on my Ipod for them.  Halloween edition features Alice Cooper. Only Women Bleed creates a question from my daughter.  My response is Sugar Pie, I have no idea why he says only women bleed.

Monday 3:55 pm.  My oldest gets off the bus.  She’s wired out of her mind because all she can think is trick or treating.  My daughter autism manifests itself in many ways.  It makes her focus on one thing a lot and the constant question she has is “what are we going to do?”  When you answer that, the next question is “What are we going to do after that.” There is rarely an endgame to it.  She also is extremely ADD, so her motor runs at 100 mph every waking minute of the day.  She’s sweet and has a great spirit to her, but she demands constant attention. No creative writing goes on when I’m watching her.

Monday 4:05 pm. Everyone goes potty and then I get all their coats on as we need to go to the grocery, since we were gone most of last week.

Monday 4:20 pm.  After stopping at bank to deposit my check, I hit the store.  Taking twin 3 year-olds and a child with special needs to the grocery is not something a sane person would try to do alone. Fortunately, my sanity left long ago, so I make my way through the store.  I follow the list my wife wrote out and with breakneck speed, try to get everything on it.  Since my voice is so ragged out, I can’t yell at my kids like I usually do when I’m at the store. After awhile, you stop being that concerned how people perceive you , when you have a child with special needs.  All you can do is your best and you realize the occasional stares that some give to your child’s odd behavior isn’t worth reacting to, because your focus has to be on taking care of the family, not retribution for being rude.  Going to the grocery store is quite a chore, but it has to get done and it’s rare when my wife or I have the time to do it on our own.

Monday 4:55 pm. Have somehow made it to the checkout aisle.  It has been a fairly calm appearance for my gang, since I stated every few minutes their good behavior was essential to them getting to go trick or treating.  Threats work when you have something good enough to keep their attention!

Monday 5:10 pm.  Get home and start putting groceries away.  I microwave some broccoli and then hot dogs for their dinner.  Iron Chef doesn’t have my schedule.

Monday 5:20 pm.  Wife gets home.  I tell her she has it from here for the next 20 minutes, as I need to take a shower. I had no chance yet to do it today (or yesterday) and I have a show that night.

Monday 5:40 pm.  Back downstairs.  At this point the kids are just finishing up dinner. My wife and I hurry to get everyone in their costumes.  My daughter on the spectrum is flying out of her mind wanting to know if it’s time to go. Holidays are really tough for her, as she gets so amped up that she sometimes melts down because she can’t handle the extra adrenaline it brings.

Monday 5:55 pm. Everyone dressed in their costumes.  Rush to get photo of everyone outside our house.  My mother-in-law has just arrived, so that helps.

Monday 6:00.  My wife stays to pass out candy, while I take my kids door to door with their grandma.

Monday 6:02.  My oldest daughter has a meltdown because she knows some people have dogs at their houses and like a lot of kids on the spectrum the sound of their bark is too much for her. She’s kind of the anti-Temple Grandin, as he has no interest in animals and especially doesn’t like one’s that are loud.  She has learned to tolerate our dog, but we do everything possible to minimize him from barking.

Monday 6:03.  I tell my mother-in-law to go on, as I take my oldest back to the house. She’s in hysterics because she so wants to go trick or treating, but she can’t handle the barking. It’s heartbreaking on so many levels, but it’s not new.

Monday 6:05.  My wife and I calm her down enough that she stops crying, but she isn’t ready to go back to knocking on doors, so I race to catch up with my twins.

Monday 6:07.  Back with my twins.  They are having a great time. First year they could really understand everything that goes with Halloween. It’s one of those special moments you don’t understand until you have kids of your own.  (Breeding haters, I’m sorry I mentioned some element of joy that comes with being a parent. Will try to refrain.)

Monday 6:50. Back home.  When I get there I’m told that one of my neighbors went out with my oldest daughter to try it again. I’m appreciative of my neighbors/friends and how they look out for my daughter.

Monday 7:00.  Continue to pass out candy.  We live on the end of a cul-de-sac, in a beautiful suburban neighborhood.  Living the American dream on the surface.  If you were to come inside our house, you would realize we are a dysfunctional family who has spent the past 3 years just trying to survive everything that life has thrown our way.  It is getting better though, because they are maturing.  This is a pretty typical day, except for the Halloween part.

Monday 7:10.  Maddie gets back with my neighbor Shawn.  She did great.  It just took her some time to get past her sound fears. Shawn is a fucking rock star for what he did to help my daughter. I fill his trick or treat cup with a beer.

My neighbor Shawn saved the night for my beautiful Maddie.

Monday 7:15.  I go inside to get my stuff together so I can make my show on-time.  My mother-in-law asks where I’m going.  I have a show in Muncie, Indiana. You have a show tonight? She’s annoyed. I get it.  I’m sure her dream was never for her daughter to marry a standup comic.  It’s not the most stable lifestyle.  I tell her that my job is a hustle and when I can get paid, I take it if the money is right for the night.

Monday 7:30.  I hop in my car to make the drive to Muncie. My car is my sanctuary from all that I have to do in life.  In my car I can listen to my Ipod and forget about the constant stress that weighs on me.  I’m listening to Greg Fitzsimmons’ Fitzdog radio podcast. I was on his podcast last year. He’s one of the best standups in the country.  Greg’s and Marc Maron’s podcasts give an insight on standup better than any others. Having said that, they both have lived a different life in standup than the one I have lived.  They have spent their time on the coasts chasing the dream and have had some great successes.  I sometimes wonder if I’ve shortchanged my career by not pursuing things the way most comics have done, but I grew up in the Midwest and feel more comfortable here than in LA or NY.

Monday 8:30.  I get to the show about 45 minutes early and 90 minutes before I hit the stage, which is generally my routine.

Monday 8:40.  Spot the promoters/comedians who booked me for this show.  Wasn’t sure this was going to be a great night for a comedy show since it was Halloween Monday after a wild weekend in the college town of Muncie. Home of Ball State University, I have done numerous shows at different venues in Muncie and I can’t recall ever having a bad show, so that bodes well.

Monday 9:15. Show begins. Don’t envy Kyle DeWeiss, who goes on first, as people slowly start to shuffle in. I’ve seen Kyle once before and he’s much better this time around. I credit this to him creating a regular comedy open mic at another room in town.  Remember what I was saying about having some hustle in your game. It’s definitely a part of getting better in the standup game.

Monday 9:30. Next comic onstage is the one who worked with Kyle in creating this night, Jake Lentz. It was Jake’s birthday and during his set his Mom called. It was a funny moment, his conversation between his Mom and him. It gave him some humanity.  The longer I’m involved in comedy, the more I realize the hidden weapon which is displaying some humanity in your act.  Not saying it has to be sentimental, but if every joke is just filled with bile, it’s hard to connect for 45 minutes. I had heard Greg Fitzsimmons discuss this when comparing Modern Family’s success to Arrested Development.  They have similar formulas and are both beautifully written, but there are some sweet moments in Modern Family which helps make it more connective to a larger audience. A little bit of irony goes a long way for me now.  I think it’s been overplayed during the past decade. Irony is the hipster version of hack.  Don’t be afraid of showing your frailties and the rawness which is your life.  I’m not saying that some comics don’t need to be vulnerable in any way to connect with almost every crowd, but there are just a few of them in my experience.

Monday 9:45.  Ryan Mast was the comic I would be following and he’s a really unique cat. He’s a young, classically good-looking guy, who always dresses onstage like he’s a member of a modern-day Spandau Ballet. It fits most of his material and he had a new bit where he read a piece from a book, which I really liked, especially since it featured an English dandy voice which fit the image he portrayed in his spiffy 3 piece suit.

Monday 10:00.  By the time I hit the stage, there were more people there, but it’s a longer, narrow room, so there was a lot of chatter in the back from non-comedy fans. This made it a little difficult to think sharply. I have battled through bad noise at many shows, with the worst part of it being it’s hard to stay focused, as the sound can throw off your timing.  I started a little slowly.

Monday 10:10.  Got into my large newer chunk about how my life is a cautionary tale to younger people about how things might not go the way you planned.  This stuff about my wife and kids you might think would not work with younger groups, but it does great because I have written it not to come off like somebody’s dad bitching about his life.  Instead, I try to make it seem more like a man who is losing grasp on his sanity from events that spiraled out of control. It’s basically pretty autobiographical of how my life has been the past 4 years.

Monday 10:25. My laryngitis is getting kind of bad. At this point I do a bit where I use a voice that I discover is harder on my vocal cords than I was aware of.  I start choking after getting the punchline out and drink some of my diet soda and try to compose myself.  I pulled out of couple bits I might have done later, knowing that they would require me to strain my voice to the point where it might put me in a coughing spell afterwards.

Monday 10:35.  In a good groove.  I’m not sure at what times these happened, though, so l will finish up this story with a few unique events that occurred from this point on.

  • After my joke which features minivans and porn, a woman upfront shared with me that she works in a porn shop.  During our discussion from there, she said I should come by tomorrow and check it out, since she was working.  I thanked her and told I would take her up on that.  Of course, I would need to drive my minivan with my kids that I had just talked about.  Why are the crotches on these panties missing, Daddy?  It says Toys, but they don’t look like the kind Santa would bring.
  • A guy in the crowd had a cool look to him. Half black, half something else, with a reddish toned afro. Kind of reminiscent of Wanda Sykes hair.  I started calling him the Leprechaun Lenny Kravitz.  It was funnier onstage than how it reads here. He was a funny guy himself, so we kind of riffed together.
  • One joke didn’t do well which usually does better so I told the audience that I was taking that one back because their response showed me they didn’t deserve it.  I then made a motion like I was pulling it back from the air.  I don’t know why that came to me, but that is now going in my show. That new idea alone was worth doing the show.

Monday 11:10.  I get offstage.  It’s been a long day.  I hang out awhile afterwards, get paid and then leave.  I live what sometimes seems like a double life, as I am Suburban Mr. Mom during most Mondays-Wednesdays, and then go off the rest of the week telling provocative things in night clubs.  It can be a grind, but it’s the only life I know, so I’m trying to make the best of it.

After the show with Docs Bartender.
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4 thoughts on “Halloween Hustle

  1. Your definitely got a lot on yur plate but from what I saw on in your show the time you put in has paid off. I had a good time & look forward to seein ya at Crackers. Just remember 1 thing when ur tryin to make sense of it all & that is that only women bleed. I don’t know what that means either but I think it will unlock alot of doors for me in the future. Take care bro.

  2. Some one Just directed me to this post, I never knew you wrote anything about me, thank you for the kind words, You handled an odd unfocused Halloween crowd like a pro sir, very memorable night, I remember at one point you laid down. It’s an neat seemingly counter intuitive plan to go low energy and break all eye contact but it drew everyone’s attention in so well because they wondered what was going on. I
    look forward to working with you again

    Ryan Mast

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